Society & Culture

St. Albans pastor reflects on 37 years at Church of the Rock

In 1983, then St. Albans Messenger staff member Brad Ferland wrote a news story about the arrival of a new Pastor at the Church of the Rock introducing him to the community. In March, Pastor Roland Ludlam retired from his ministry. Recently, Ferland met up with Ludlam for a look back at his experience with preaching, life, death, sorrow, happiness, and Gospel teachings. His retirement ended a long tenure in the church community and in greater Franklin County that touched hundreds of individuals and families.

by Brad Ferland

ST. ALBANS — At the beginning of many church services, one might see the pastor up by the pulpit overlooking the congregation. At the Church of the Rock, one would likely see guitars, drums, a piano, or a decorative light, but not a pastor, or at least not Pastor Roland Ludlum. The congregation would be within Ludlum’s view, but from a place at the back of the church.

If the pulpit was the top of the church, the back row was the bottom. And from this viewpoint, Ludlam picked up the feeling and the vibe of the morning gathering. He knew most of the congregants well and if there was a new face or family, he would know that, too. In the sense of flock and shepherd, Ludlum was a keen observer of those he tended.

Ludlam was the spiritual leader of the Church of the Rock from 1983 until March when he retired. His journey encompassed every aspect of church and community life. The high points of joy within the church’s sanctuary with weddings and birth and the low and sad points of funerals and death. Ludlum took it all on in stride and became a pillar of the church and Franklin County community over the span of 37 years.

“Church shouldn’t make your life harder. Work can be hard, marriage can be hard, life can be hard. A church should enhance your life. It should be a place you feel accepted. You should experience joy and hope.”

Roland grew up in a pastor’s family. His early years were spent in the Philadelphia area and along the Jersey shore. During college, his family moved to Portland, Maine. He graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a B.A. in English Literature. He then earned an M.A. in English Literature at the University of New Hampshire.

It was at UNH that he met Suzanne. They were married in 1973.

He attended Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Mass., earning a Masters of Divinity degree in 1977. He and Suzanne served as missionaries in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo for several years.

Following their time overseas, the Ludlams returned to the States. He became credentialed with the Assemblies of God and served as an assistant pastor in Windham, Maine for one year before coming to St. Albans to pastor the Church of the Rock. He served this church from 1983 until 2020. During that time he held several offices in the Northern New England District of the Assemblies of God.

When Ludlum started his job at the Church of the Rock, services were being held in the former Owl Club. Church service would conclude at noon as the bar for club members would open.

The Owl Club was part of the humble beginnings of a church that wanted and needed to grow. Ludlum’s first responsibility besides being a pastor was to find land to build a new church. He became not only a spiritual guide to his new community but also a construction foreman. He and church elders, notably Charles Drinkwater, found affordable land in the church’s current location. And for the first building they had more of an “Amish style” barn-raising than a traditional building project. Even kids were up on the rooftop pounding nails and shingle and getting a church built. “There was a lot of work fueled by chili and cider,” said Ludlam.

Perhaps a pastor’s best known duty is preparing the Sunday sermon. It is not one week and done; it is Sunday after Sunday for fifty- two weeks a year. And like an actor on the stage, a pastor must have a performance that people want to hear and attend, a show that will bring attendees back. Ludlum’s personality wasn’t one of showmanship, but his drive was for a fifty-two-week run per year with a vested audience. His style was his quiet thoughtful engagement in his teaching. His soft voice had a very loud reach.

To achieve his weekly sermon Ludlum’s week began with a meditative study of the Bible. Ludlum could be drawn to any passage or verse. He willingly absorbed himself in the reading and the teaching. It also helped that he had a working knowledge of Greek and Biblical Hebrew.

His study would be the foundation of his sermon. It may have a specific theme to it, one relative to modern-day need or it could be more of a parable, setting a tone of greater learning and spiritual growth. The passage became the basis for one sermon or several weeks of sermons. It depended on the depth of the message and how it could be conveyed. Ludlum took on his research with a respectful hunger, that provided food for his own growth, and also a bounty of nourishment for those he served.

Ludlam spoke of Jesus’ approach to teaching as one he worked to follow, particularly how Jesus used stories and parables to teach and was among all of the people. Ludlum recounted how Jesus physically put his hand to a leper, something unheard of in the day. Asked if it was a miracle cure for the leper, Ludlum’s eyes grew wide and he was thoughtful about answering, “A miracle physical healing, yes. And most likely the first touch from anyone given in years and it held love and hope. Healing of the heart.”

“Our community holds us to the highest standards,” said Ludlum. “Church shouldn’t make your life harder. Work can be hard, marriage can be hard, life can be hard. A church should enhance your life. It should be a place you feel accepted. You should experience joy and hope.”

He didn’t “shoot from the pulpit,” he guided. He knew to lead with a positive message rather than a style of condemnation. He believed that if you show people good examples, they will recognize bad as well. Ludlam said, “bank tellers are only given real hundred-dollar bills when they start, so they know exactly what real ones feel like. Then, if a counterfeit comes into their hands at some point, they will immediately feel the difference of something being wrong.” Ludlam puts emphasis on better spiritual living.

For Ludlum and the congregation, the church was about creating a culture. “What kind of family is this going to be?” said Ludlum. And the members act almost in the New England sense of a town meeting to agree on a set of core values, beliefs, and practices. Elders, a pastor, and parishioners all work to create a place of welcome to all.

Ludlum emphasizes that the new person walking through the door is of the highest priority. They must be welcomed with open arms, and the hope is the first visit will provide some nourishing bread-like experience that makes a difference.

Early in his ministry, Ludlum wore a coat and tie and gradually went to a business casual look. “Statistics say how few people wear ties in church. And I ask, why am I wearing a tie? The goal is to reach people,” he said.

The church operates in a non-liturgical manner. It seems to have a living flow within its own doctrine like a river finding a passage to move freely and with ease. If there is a ritual, it is that there isn’t one. Ludlam, as a pastor, does take on sin. He looks for a pathway for people who want or need guidance. For people who want or need an understanding of the teachings of the Bible. For people who can hear a parable and apply it to their life’s growth and learn from it. He doesn’t cast aspersions or shame from the altar. His message is something he hopes his congregation will recognize as a positive and promising way to live, with religious guidance and faith as the catalyst for his message.

And where does the pastor find strength and recharge? He praises his own family and their support and love for his ministry. In addition, Ludlum used a meditative approach founded in closeness to his strong religious belief. He became a good listener to a voice that he prayed to for guidance. He would begin his prayer with “Dear Roland” as if receiving a letter of guidance. It was a process filled with faith. And with this deep and personal connection, Roland would listen to a voice that helped fill him with guidance and direction.

The Church of the Rock became not only a place of worship but also a community meeting place for many non-profits and civic groups. The expansion into several buildings allowed for groups such as Northwestern Counseling & Support Services, Northwestern Medical Center, Meals on Wheels, Boy Scouts, and many others to hold meetings and activities.

“We provide social capital to the community. How can we augment what we do? We are all in this together,” Lundlam said. He pointed to a Halloween event at the church which 1,400 kids attended. Candy they had collected for months disappeared quickly and a run to Wal-Mart was necessary to replenish stock. “People felt safe bringing their kids to the church,” he said.

Ludlum said the most difficult part of the ministry was the incredible challenge of dealing with death in his congregation or community. He was always available to comfort at the moment and lend strength. Crisis or death was a drop everything moment for Ludlam. His arms were big, and his compassion and faith were always there to comfort.

There were many good times, as well. Fellowship, sermons, weddings, building a congregation, working with the community, having a vibrant place of building better lives.

In retirement he plans to sail, ski, hike and spend time with family. He is a big reader and learning constantly fills his world.

The back of the church was an important part of Ludlum’s success as a pastor. It could be called the lowest point in the church, but one offering a perspective from a mountaintop. Ludlum knew that view and for 37 years he helped his congregants see it too. For those who followed with him, it gave them light and direction.

“If someone’s life is a mess, we need to help fix it,” he said. “There is no place you can go that you can’t get back from. We don’t punish because you’re lost. When you’re at your bottom, that’s where God will meet you!”

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